One year into the pandemic, let’s take a moment to admit how hard it is
Happy anniversary, readers! It’s been a year. Our trauma birthday has arrived. I’m not sure whether to get a cake and light a candle, or just eat a bag of sugar and set something on fire.
For 12 months, the vast majority of us have been so good, so focused on helping other people, so willing to sacrifice things in the national interest. With our virtuous and conscientious shoulders, we have shrugged off our frustrations and our anger. When we’ve missed our old lives, we’ve bowed our isolated heads and reminded ourselves that boredom and cravings are a small price to pay for keeping a plague at bay.
However, in the week that marks the one-year anniversary of the day we were sent home — the day we lost our naïveté — I want to take a moment to free myself of the tangled-up rage and resentment that’s been building up over the year. It’s weird to feel like having a tantrum while at the same time knowing this is how things have to be. I’m not saying I think we should go back to the old way; if that was an option right now, I wouldn’t choose it. But, in the same way I can desperately want a cigarette while knowing it’s better that I don’t, here are the things I desperately miss a year into this dumpster-fire of a pandemic.
In the beginning, as the first layer of comforts was peeled away from us, I remember being upset because my trip to Portugal was cancelled. I longed for a particular type of cinnamon muffin I get each year there in a café called Pure. I’m laughing at myself now. Imagine if that was as bad as it would get — missing a specific type of cake? How naïve. The months went by and my petty desires became more broad. It moved from a muffin in Portugal to wanting just Portugal. I’d sacrifice the muffin entirely if I could just get to a sunny place.
More time passed, winter made its miserable appearance and my hierarchy of needs readjusted again. Suddenly, the specificity of Portugal was ridiculous, entitled greed. Any sun would do. Irish sun, Dublin sun, Cabra sun, a sunbed, a bright lightbulb; I’d take any of it. It’s funny how in times of restriction, our needs and wants become simpler. It’s like when people are on strict diets; suddenly half an apple is exciting and a pineapple ring is an all-out treat.
When the 2km restriction was in place, I missed Castleknock. Now that I can travel 5km, I rarely venture up there, but it just showed me that I’ll always find something to pine for.
The things I miss the most have changed over the months. At the start, it was cinemas, long-haul flights, a wing platter at Nando’s, my gym or having my hair done. A year on, if I could have just three things back, it wouldn’t be any of those. I miss the casual carefree-ness of 2019; the way you could pick up someone’s dropped hat or wallet and hand it back to them without feeling like you were handing them a bomb. I miss popping into my friends’ houses for no reason. I miss sitting in front of my GP.
I miss having nothing specific to worry about. I miss having news to chat to my friends about on the phone other than what TV show they watched last or what takeaway they’re planning to get next. I miss chatting to the staff in my local café and seeing their excitement about whatever was on special that day for lunch. I miss being up and down the road to Cork; wandering from my mam’s house into our neighbours to borrow sugar or milk or whatever we’d forgotten to buy. I miss my friends’ kids — whom I’ve never even met, because they’ve been born in the last 12 months.
I miss sitting opposite my producers, agents or script editors and grappling with an idea with them in person. I miss the smell of perfume when you walk close by someone. I miss doing things without thinking. I miss not having to constantly gauge 2m. I miss cinema popcorn. I miss eating from breakfast buffets in hotels. I miss touching things in shops and making strangers laugh.
It feels good to admit, even just for a moment, my howling, raging desire to get back what we had a year ago. I’m glad I didn’t know then what we were in for. I’m grateful I didn’t foresee the toll it would take on us all or the simple and profound pleasures that would be lost.
One day at a time, we will keep going for however long it takes. It’s not breaking any rules, though, to admit how hard that is.